Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Drought

We’re in the sixth or seventh week of nearly steady 100 degree days. Daily the clouds build, huge and fluffy and water pregnant, south and north. Moisture is somehow being sucked from the dust dry earth and carried skyward. As it passes it drenches you in humidity. The desert is not meant to be humid.

At dawn you can say nothing - locals say only fools and newcomers try to predict the weather here. At 2pm there’s hope. The clouds are formidable hulks rising to 40,000 feet over the Chisos Mountains. By 3pm there are more. Vague feelings of disappointment begin at 4 o’clock. If the sky is not full by then it will all slowly unravel. Large patches of blue will be exposed. Thunderheads will collapse on themselves. Whole cloud banks will dissolve before your eyes. No rain today.

It’s been that way for weeks on end. We’re in a drought. The animals are crazed for food and drink. Mice burrow under screening to eat our lettuce. Rats climb the sheep fence to grab an inch long cucumber. Critters eat our melons, even the leaves and large stems of the plants. The tomatoes are long gone, the ones high on the bush have been nabbed by the birds, the lower branches were stripped by rodents. A thornless cactus, two feet tall and widely branched has disappeared - maybe even the roots are gone. Coyotes come to the porch at night to drink the dog’s water. We are awakened by furious barking and growling as Mija lunges for the door, but by the time we get there the coyotes are only shadows.

We see the scat of many different animals but still cannot figure out which one loves the coffee grounds in the compost pile. Every morning we find the degradable coffee filter from the day before torn apart and empty.

The sunsets are spectacular, playing off the remnants of the day’s clouds and reflecting off the Rosillos and Rattlesnake Ridge to the east and south. By early evening there are only wisps of clouds, by night the sky is clear and the billions of pinpricks light the desert floor, so brilliant you don’t need a flashlight to see your path. Still, best to have one in case of snakes. It would not do to step on a Mohave rattler.

Our catchment tanks are nearing empty. Yet ten miles down the road they’ve had three inches of rain in five days. The desert is fickle. Like Coyote, it is the trickster. Maybe tomorrow a storm will build behind the Corazones and come sweeping, unexpected, down upon us. This has happened.

It is said that the coyotes have been struck by a disease. We see few but there are many rabbits. Nature is cruel in the dry - just when the food source peaks an epidemic strikes. When plenty comes, death is not far behind.

Our pipeline from the well on the hill leaked today. Within minutes there were doves, sparrows, finches, bees, wasps and butterflies at the small puddle which was being formed. I delay the repairs in sympathy but I know I should let Nature strike Her balance.

It’s deep in the night. There are no sounds except the imperceptible humming of the starlight - you can’t really hear it but you sense it, along with the slow scratchings of the skunk and badger and the cough of the javelina. The big cats are shifting the dust in their silent stalking.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the earth will come alive with pelting droplets, with rain thrown horizontal by wild currents. Maybe there will even be hail and the cooling afterwards. But tonight, only the slow, hot wind.

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